— NRC (@nrc) October 30, 2017
In the middle of September, German state-owned railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB) called on its travellers to come up with suggestions for names for the newest generation of ICE high-speed trains. According to German newsmagazine BILD it was looking for:
“People from German history, from the fields of culture, politics, science, industry, and sport. Well received, within four weeks, 19.400 submissions suggested more than 2500 names.“
Besides names such as Bertha Benz, Albert Einstein, and Konrad Adenauer, the name of Anne Frank was suggested. The decision to select the last name, is criticised by BILD as ‘tactless,’ but Antje Neubauer, head of Marketing and PR at DB sees it quite differently. In a response that is both worthless in its triviality, and insulting in its clichéd separation from actual history, she says:
“Anne Frank stands for tolerance and a friendly joining of different cultures, which is important in times like this.“
And if this empty moral grandstanding wasn’t galling enough, Dr. Gisela Mettele, professor of Gender history at the Friedrich-Schiller University Jena, and member of the jury that picked the names, said that:
“no matter how different the persons selected are, they have something in common: they were curious about the world.“
BILD dryly remarks that no mention is made of the fact that Anne Frank was deported. Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad now writes that the decision is ‘final’ and that it was a conscious decision. In its article it specifies that Anne Frank was taken by train to the Auschwitz, and later Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, dying in the later in 1945. The NRC quotes a DB spokesperson, who says that:
“Anne Frank was one of the most mentioned names. (…) It would have been remarkable if we refused the name ‘Anne Frank’.“
The NRC continues by pointing at the central role played by the precursor of the DB, the so-called Reichsbahn in the deportation of the Jews. However, the paper is uncritical in reporting that a DB spokesperson says it is facing its past, for example by having a memorial called Gleis 17.
While the way in which Germans face and commemorate their Nazi-past is generally commendable, calling a train after Anne Frank seems, to quote BILD, somewhat tactless indeed. The reasons given for selecting her name, as indicated by BILD, are highly political, and convey little understanding of the circumstances of Anne Frank’s life or death.